Markers in Time

It has been one year since we received our referral of Aseres.  I am not a real big fan of Father’s Day or other days designed to get everyone’s focus on a particular issue or group.  But I do like celebrating birthdays and anniversaries — to remember and to respect and to measure what has come since in year long bites.  Maybe it is my Old Testament reading or my exposure to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church where everyday commemorates something.  Anyway after we had some time and I got around to posting, we shared what we were allowed:

Baby A is currently in a private home run by our adoption agency in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She was moved there from an orphanage in Gondar at the end of last year. While we have pictures and the name she goes by, we are not sharing that information online until the court grants us custody.  A referral means that our agency has matched our family with Baby A, and by accepting the referral, we are moving forward to seek custody under Ethiopian and American law. 

We really wanted to share more at the time, but our agency forbade any online identifying information until the Ethiopian court acted on our case.  So although she was beautiful and her birth mother had given her a beautiful name, no pictures and we had to refer to Aseres as “Baby A.”  We are way past that now, so here is what it was like to live through..

I received a call at my office from Sara saying she had our referral and asking if I could go home to receive the information with Marissa.  I did not ask any more questions, but literally ran down the stairs and into my car.  I was shaking.  I called Marissa even though I only live five minutes from my office to make sure she was at home.  She was, as were all the kids because school had not started.  She asked some questions I cannot remember but it was clear from the questions she was a little bit dizzy with anticipation.

When I opened the front door Marissa was vacuuming.  It will always be one of my favorite memories.  My beautiful wife wanting to let loose some of her nervous energy so bad that she was frantically vacuuming the living room and sending the kids across the house to put their toys up.  I let her know that we did not have a video phone, so Sara would not be able to appreciate how clean and neat the house was. When she looked up, she was already crying.  I can’t remember if Sara called us or if I called her back.  Either way, we put her on speaker and Owen had the video camera.  Despite our excitement, Sara was an old pro and marched through in calm, clear Gladney speak.

“I have a referral for you of an eleven and a half month baby girl, and I am emailing referral information right now.”

“A girl,” Marissa noticed before I did, “oh my goodness.(one second, two seconds).. the hair,” in a tone of excitement mixed with fear.  Roni shrieked across the living room with joy.  She made no secret that she wanted a sister but we knew the odds were about 80% we would get a little boy.  I pulled up the first email with the referral information and some photos.  We learned in real time the details of Aseres background from this very document and got our first look via these very pics:

Aseres.Referral

This little, beautiful girl was in an orphanage?  More pictures came and more information later, but there was something overwhelming when we looked at these first pictures — something awe inspiring; there still is.  When we decided to adopt, I dismissed the idea that there was one child for each family as mommy talk.  Then we got our first look at our new daughter.  She was the girl for us, the girl God had picked for us.  Call me a sap but there are moments when the only play is to accept the feeling of joy God gives you as a child and with thanksgiving, and not let the skepticism of the world undermine your praise.  Matter of fact, there should be more such moments, but this was one.  She was our daughter — just because an idea is romantic doesn’t make it untrue.

We let Sara know that we would be accepting the referral.  We prayed over the night, but we knew and had peace that Aseres was the answer to the prior evenings’ prayers.  Most of you know the rest of the story.  We just wanted to observe this time marker by sharing what we couldn’t share then.  It is only a couple weeks before Aseres’ birthday.  By and around that time, we will be sharing with everyone what has happened since we landed in Austin, more pictures than you probably want, and lots of details on how and what she and we are doing.

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How we came home from Addis early

Addis Ababa                April 5, 2012

By Tuesday, our kids had made it clear that they needed us home, but it was still 8 days before our embassy appointment, plus two days for Aseres’ visa and a day and a half of travel.  It is not comforting to tell your kids that you hear them and love them and should be home in 12 days.  We heard that lying to the embassy might get us home quicker — make up an emergency or go every day and wait, but we weren’t going to betray an integrity we had hung to through our whole process.  Could we instead go to God who united us with our daughter and then changed the “if” we could return home to “when” and ask for more?  Wasn’t that selfish?  We decided it was honest, so we went to God with an awe and a thankfulness which we should have always had and confessed our neediness and our lack of faith and asked to be home for Easter, but above all for us to glorify him wherever we are.  And we meant it — it wasn’t a weak prayer of whatever your will God, but a recognition that he is sovereign and his will is best for us.  We knew that now.  If we weren’t to be home for Easter, we trusted he would be the perfect father to our kids in Texas just as he had been to our daughter in Ethiopia before.

When we finished, I emailed the same embassy who had frustrated us at every turn for months.  “We are trying our best to make it until the 11th, but we miss our kids at home and they miss us.  If anything opens, please call me” and I gave them our local phone number.

I walked back to our room, but before I could lay down next to my beautiful wife sleeping with a glow of a new mom mixed with a tension from her separation from her older babies, my phone rang.  “Mr McGlothlin (it was the consular’s office at the embassy).  I was confirming your phone number.  I received your email.  I understand how hard it is to be separated.  We will call you the moment we receive your daughter’s file from Nairobi and get Aseres visa ready the same day.  Even if it comes in Friday when we are closed, I will have someone come in and meet you so we can get you guys home.”

Thanks.  Thank you so much. (But I thought you were evil) We want to go home.

The file didn’t come Friday; it came Wednesday night.  The embassy called and we went in on Thursday with our daughter who was one interview and 28 hours of travel from being as much of an American citizen as any of her new siblings.  The interviewer had a smile instead of a pitchfork and congratulated us as she slid Aseres’ approved papers to us.  I called our travel agent when we returned to the guest house.  He asked if we could get to the airport in two hours for the last few seats on the plane — bulkhead in business class; no fare increase.

Marissa packed and Aseres slept, and I was back in the garden face down in the grass.  The weight of the story God wrote on our lives and his power left me without any words.  We were prepared to stay in Ethiopia forever if it was his will, but his will was for us to stay just a little while.  I should have just been excited that all our prayers were answered, but I worried that the communion and closeness we felt through a two and a half year process which had redefined us might ebb.  “God, don’t let this be a high water mark when I look back; don’t let me return to the man I was.”  I noticed it was almost a micro version of Moses’ “if your presence will not go with us, do not bring us up from here” then a peace overcame me that we worship the same God as Moses.  He promised Moses that “my presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” and he still intervenes with the same power and mercy.  So I got up and helped Marissa pack.  Aseres was up and we kept telling her she was going home — a term with yet no meaning to her.  We caught our flight and the next three over 28 hours.  Aseres may have fussed a total of 15 minutes.  We hugged our kids at the base of the airport escalator, and introduced Aseres to her brothers and sister, along with her grandparents and about 20 adults and kids from our amazing church family who had each prayed her home.  And then we went home, the six of us, and rested in his presence.  Hallelujah; all glory be to God.

Photos courtesy of Holly Bollinger  http://www.facebook.com/hollybollingerphoto

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Saying goodbye with a cup of coffee (Wednesday in Addis)

Addis Ababa          April 4, 2012

We left the guesthouse one time once for a few hours over our first five days with Aseres.  Between baths, play, naps and meals, the time turned quickly to Wednesday.  Our agency reserves the Wednesdays after placement for a traditional coffee ceremony at the Care Center.  From what we heard, the nannies swoop in and take the children away from their parents and off to see all of the nannies.  They dress the children in a traditional outfit, and everyone enjoys a traditional coffee ceremony together.  It sounded neat months ago, but we were not excited when Wednesday morning came.

Aseres moved from Bridge of Hope Orphanage to the Gladney Care Center once she was matched with our family, so she spent most of her life at the Care Center.  There was a lot of history at the Care Center, but we thought she had made great progress in our five days with her.  She said mama, dada, baby, kiss and signed “more” even though we were her first exposure to English.  Aseres was eating well, she was going to mama for comfort and she and I were bonding well.  We did not want a set-back, but we knew the ceremony was important to the nannies and we didn’t want to take anything from those who had spent so much time with her.

We traveled the same 35 minute drive to the Care Center which we had taken for the three visits in November.  Past the construction, the hungry, the broken and the more successful, past the loose donkeys and cows – all spilling into the lanes of traffic.  Marissa held Aseres as we toured the four houses in the Care Center complex.  We passed so many kids with willing families waiting to bring them home, yet stuck.  Do those who wish to insert speed bumps and roadblocks have any idea what extra months in an institutional setting does to a child?  Marissa handed Aseres to me and I carried her through the familiar courtyard gate.

That tree right there is where we prayed over you and told you we were going to prepare a place for you.  We will always try to do what we say.  We stepped through two doors and then another into the room where Aseres lived after our promise under the tree.  Aseres.  Aseres.  Aseres!  Her name rang from three separate corners and three separate nannies.  Some old friends tugged at her feet, but she held tighter.

Nannies saying goodbye

A kiss goodbye from an old friend

Minutes passed before one nanny coaxed Aseres with a cookie to join her and a cookie.  She made it to the ground, but the nannies conceded to Aseres look of concern and got her dressed right in front of us.  By the time she was dressed,

I'm outta here

the first and second cookie were gone.  The nannies told us they were too busy and would stay but another would join us for coffee; none would.  We set her down to walk out in the courtyard and the gate with us.  We took one “I’m out of this place” picture and returned to the main house for coffee.

Two nannies attended with two other children, but none for Aseres.  She sat with us through one awesome tradition.  Ethiopians still roast and brew coffee in their living rooms across the country every day.  It has an amazing feel of community as you go deeper with old and new

friends.  A Kenyan family joined us excited for “good coffee.”  And like that, it was over and we were back in the car.  I’ve heard it before, but there is no greater feeling than seeing the orphanage in the rear view mirror.  We were prepared for the worst but wanted to say a personal goodbye to the nannies who did so much to care for Aseres until we could come get her.  We drove away surprised there was no nanny she appeared to attach to despite her many months; we don’t know yet if that will make our work harder once we get home.

Pictures of our first two days with Aseres

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One hour is all it took to move the mountains

Addis Ababa       March 30, 2012

The front porch of the guesthouse looks onto a manicured garden.  Two steps down take you to a well-placed rock then a beautiful, long strip of sod bordered by plants and flowers.  The garden is separated from the neighboring home on one side by a high wall and on the other by steps down to the driveway.  Thirty minutes from Aseres’ scheduled arrival, I went to get Marissa from our room because I couldn’t wait alone.  On my way to the back room, I stopped to check my email on the dial-up computerand found CIS reply:

“A decision was made on Aseres John McGlothlin’s petition, please find it attached.  The file is now being sent back to the embassy in Addis Ababa for further action.”

CIS in Nairobi had three possible decisions – approve, deny, or request more evidence.  If the file was coming back to Addis … I clicked on the attachment to be sure but the pdf wouldn’t open.  No way; really.  It had to say “approved” right?  I pulled an old email a friend forwarded a few weeks ago, and our email was identical to her approval.  That must mean… I ran downstairs.

Babe, I think we cleared Nairobi.

Thank God, what do you mean you think?   (explain)  Did you send it to Sara?

(I didn’t think of that) No, it is 4:00 in the morning in Texas.

Take the laptop and go down to Kaldis Coffee.

Aseres is going to be here in 30 minutes, I’m not leaving.  It looked just like Nancy’s email.  Let’s just believe it is approved and go wait for Aseres.  If it is anything but good news, we will deal with it later.  Today is about her.

We went back to the living room, so I could email Sara and we could wait.  Another family was playing with their daughter and suggested I use my thumb drive.  Brilliant, but the computer wouldn’t recognize my thumb drive.  The other dad got on the computer with my thumb drive.

Here it is; I drug it into Google Chrome.

(Did he read it)

“We approved your I-600, please allow three days before contacting the embassy to set up your Visa interview.”

Three days – close enough, I emailed the embassy and tweeted word of the approval.  The embassy quickly responded with regrets that the first available appointment on the 11th so we would be going home the evening of the 13th.  In five minutes, the joy of “if” becoming “when” briefly gave way to slight irritation that our 3 minute interview was delayed so our tormentors could celebrate Easter.  The irritation left — they couldn’t hurt us any longer.  If God wanted us to celebrate Easter in Addis, we would look for a way to glorify him.

1:00 came and we heard a honk letting the guard know a car waited to enter – the car bringing Aseres.  Only it wasn’t; it was a different car.  As were the next three cars over the next 45 mintues.  Finally, Aseres came through the gate in the back seat on a nanny’s lap.  Marissa darted down the stairs and I trailed.  The nanny opened the rear door and handed Aseres to Marissa. 

There you are sweet girl, Marissa said. 

Ambes handed me two medications for Aseres with written directions in Amharic.  I hugged Marissa, and we both held Aseres tight in a sweet reunion.  Hopefully, the cough and runny nose wasn’t the same cold she had when we left her four months ago.  There would be no leaving again.  Her coming home was no longer a question of if but a question of when.  In one hour, God showed us a glimpse of his might – all glory be to God.  Marissa handed Aseres to me – her hair in four puffs, sandals which should have been thrown out and a tattered purple dress – that and the two medications were all she came with.  Marissa moved to the rear window of the car to hear what the nanny was saying.

Thank you, Marissa said more out of gratitude than in response.

Ambes let us know that the nanny insisted we go lay her down for her nap right then.

I nodded with a smile as we turned towards our room – Aseres’ room.  God moved mountains to bring this reunion.  Aseres looked bewildered and confused, scared and guarded, and we realized at that moment of God’s glory that we remained completely helpless in need of him more now than ever.

(I am no Hemmingway, so our story needs pictures.  Unfortunately, this is the first time we have had power and internet at the same time in a day and a half, and we do not yet have means to share photos (see thumb drive issue).  I have already written the story of Aseres first 24 hours with nine pictures.  Soon, I should be able to post it somehow.)

Back in Addis

We left Austin at 11:45 Wednesday morning and arrived in Addis 26 hours later.  After obtaining a visa and reuniting with all our luggage, we met a Gladney driver who took us from Bole Airport to the guest house.  As a bad traveler, I am always relieved to arrive anywhere, but I felt a different peace as we cruised the evening streets — like I was home.  I don’t think that feeling came out of an affinity for Addis, although I do like it.  Rather, in coming in faith and obedience, God welcomed me to him with a peace that can only come from him.

We got about seven hours of halting sleep.  I awoke at 6 a.m. to send an email to the CIS office in Nairobi who we need to approve Aseres file to bring her home.  We did not come to clear Aseres case by the coming, but simply to be with her.  Still, on the chance that our presence is an action God can work through, we mine as well let them know we are here.

It is now late morning Friday in Addis.  Owen, Roni and Connor are eight hours behind in Texas.  I hope they told the grandparents Thursday was pizza night.  We are praying for them during our separation with the same force with which we prayed with them for Aseres during that separation — almost as if God prepared us for the leaving.  As I wrote that last sentence, Ambes calles to say he is bringing Aseres to us in two hours — all glory be to God.

Should we stay or should we go now

Since we left Addis 113 days ago, Marissa and I wanted to return immediately to be reunited with our daughter –this time forever.  The reunion will bring indescribable joy, and we will get to start the long process of walking with Aseres into love, light and freedom.  Our own desire to go for the joy of the reunion and to start the work ahead has been almost irrepressible.  However, we didn’t want to go until God called us to go.  We have faith that he has been a perfect father to Aseres and that she has not lacked during this separation, as he promised us.  And we have faith that God can handle freeing Aseres without our help.

Still, in prayer, we have listened to hear God tell us to “go,” but instead, God has called us to feed the hungry, pray with widows, fight for the imprisoned, minister to the fatherless, visit the sick and pray for healing, and loosen provision for the oppressed.  God’s call on our time left no lull and the call to mission where we live was the only call we heard from him.  Instead of “go” we were asked to trust him.  This week, things cleared out and we began planning how and when we would go.  We hatched a really smart plan where Marissa would go in advance and I would stay with our big three kids.  Once CIS cleared Aseres’ case, I would join them to bring her home.  Yet, we felt no peace in our smart plan.  This morning I awoke at 2 a.m. and couldn’t sleep.  When I got on my face before God to push back for 113 days and counting, I kept hearing that it was time to “go.”  Finally, I heard what I had waited for but only after I started planning instead of waiting; maybe God hadn’t heard about my smart plan to stay instead and send Marissa.  Did “go” mean “stay and send?”

We decided it meant “go” and that God knew who he was talking to, so we will go on Wednesday morning — together.  We will take placement of Aseres on Friday — together.  And we will begin the process of walking with her in love to light and freedom — together.  Together, we will wait at the wall Satan has built around Aseres’ entry to the US, and we will wait for God to win the battle and unite our family.

I am aware that some of you will second guess — you are leaving your three older kids, your approval is uncertain, the timeline could stretch, you can’t pay for an extended stay…. True, but we are going to trust God to finish the fight for his glory and take care of us along the way.  And we are not going to allow an earthly, flawed government to tell us when it is time to be present in our daughter’s life.  God guides that decision, not some nitwit at the embassy.  We really don’t care what people may say, except a much older Aseres when she asks what we did when her entry was uncertain and delayed, to which we will reply “baby, we waited and waited until it was God’s time and we ran to be with you forever, and to love you — together.”

Dear God, thank you for providing and caring for Aseres while she was trapped in separation and thank you for the joy we have seen in her pictures — as your word says “you have been the helper of the fatherless.”  Now please, “break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account until you find none” (Psalm 10) and free our baby to come home.

Next post from Addis with new pics…

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